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Tales from the peloton
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Remembering what happened last year: Brajkovic takes stage and overall lead at the Critérium
Millar second, Contador has a bad day and slips to fourth overall. David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) put in a strong effort to move into second overall.
June 9, Stage 3: Monteux – Sorgues (ITT) 49km
Janez Brajkovic (Team RadioShack) powered to victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné’s 49km individual time trial and took over the general classification lead from former teammate Alberto Contador (Astana).
Despite having to get a bike change 15km into the stage, the Slovenian time trial champion set the fastest time at both intermediate splits and stopped the clock in 1:01:51, besting runner-up David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) by 26 seconds and third-placed Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) by 43 seconds. American Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) put in a good effort in the longest time trial of his career to finish fourth, 53 seconds back, while Denis Menchov (Rabobank) slotted in for fifth place, 55 seconds down on Brajkovic.
“I knew my condition was really at top level for the moment, so I dreamed a bit of a victory, but after I saw the course this morning, the dream was far away,” said Brajkovic, the 2004 U23 time trial world champion. “There was a lot of wind and the roads were so bad. I really thought I would be too light for this job. On the other hand, I like long distance time trials. I need a long warm-up period.
“A pity I lost some 30 seconds because of my bike change. Fortunately Alain Gallopin kept motivating me. My team director was a superb coach. He was incredible and yelled me to the victory.”
“At the top of the Côte de la Roque-sur-Pernes Jani had to change his bike because one of the two aero extensions came loose,” said Gallopin. “That situation was too dangerous. He was in the lead at that moment and lost his morale. We presumed Contador would not have his best fitness level yet so this was our chance to take the stage victory and the jersey.
“I told Jani not to panic and to stay calm. I convinced him to use a lower gear than he normally does. This is a big success for Jani and the team. Jani deserves this. He is obsessed about training. Sometimes he does too much and misses some freshness at the races. Let’s hope this can be a new start for Jani’s career.”
Alberto Contador, who started the day with only a five-second lead over Brajkovic on general classification, passed through the first time check 31 seconds behind the Slovenian and steadily lost time throughout the course to finish in sixth place, 1:46 off the pace. The reigning Tour de France champion played down his result on a parcours characterized by rough roads and windy conditions.
“I couldn’t get into the right rhythm. I tried to take the pace, especially at first,” said Contador. “It was an extremely rough road and although I thought to push a little at the end, it was a not super day”.
Contador reiterated that he’s treating the Critérium du Dauphiné as training for the Tour de France and that he chose not to take any risks on the corners once he knew he was well off the pace of Brajkovic. “As I said since the first day, the goal here is to get ready for the Tour and, as in previous years, the way I have been preparing is ideal. The fight for the general classification is for other riders, in my case I will dedicate myself to see a little from behind, as a spectator”.
Brajkovic’s effort moved him from third to first on general classification. Millar, runner-up on the stage, is also second place on general classification, 36 seconds back, while Van Garderen dropped from second to third and trails Brajkovic by 50 seconds. Contador dropped from first to fourth, 1:41 behind Brajkovic.
Tomorrow the peloton tackles the Critérium du Dauphiné’s longest stage, 210km from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Risoul, and with it the first taste of the mountains. The stage gradually gains in elevation for the entire day, culminating with the only classified climb, the 12.4km, category 1 climb to the finish in Risoul.
Stage 3. Results
1. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack 1:01:51
2. David Millar (GBr) Garmin – Transitions 0:00:26
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team 0:00:43
4. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) Team HTC – Columbia 0:00:53
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0:00:55
6. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:01:46
7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team 0:01:56
8. Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram 0:02:09
9. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Team Katusha 0:02:14
10. Patrick Gretsch (Ger) Team HTC – Columbia 0:02:15
Another Slovenian already won in stage one.
Stage 1. winner Grega Bole (Lampre-Farnese Vini) celebrates his victory in Saint-Laurent-du-Pont.
Slovenian a candidate for RadioShack’s Tour de France squad
Janez Brajkovic confirmed today at the Critérium du Dauphiné Team RadioShack’s reputation of being a team known for its time trial prowess. Following the examples of Chris Horner at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tiago Machado at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the 26-year-old Slovenian scored the seventh win of the debut season for Lance Armstrong’s outfit in the Critérium du Dauphiné’s lengthy individual time trial. In addition to winning the stage, Brajkovic is the Dauphiné’s new race leader.
Brajkovic, the reigning Slovenian time trial champion and former U23 world time trial champion, put in a dominant performance as he bested favourite David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) by 26 seconds on the 49km course from Monteux to Sorgues. The route wasn’t an easy one with a lot of wind and 33 speed bumps to negotiate, which might have contributed to Brajkovic’s handlebar coming loose. The Slovenian opted for a bike change at the top of the only climb of the day, at km 15.5. “I could have carried on with the same bike but I wanted to be sure of my equipment,” he told reporters at a post-race press conference.
“After the bike change, I didn’t know where I was at,” he said. “[RadioShack's directeur sportif] Alain [Gallopin] told me I still I had the best time. I didn’t expect to win this race at all. I expected to have a good time trial and I hoped for a top finish.
“It’s great to win. I’m more than happy. I’ve had a pretty good season so far. I made the top 10 at all the races I’ve taken part in, except Paris-Nice where I finished 11th. I was really tired after the Tour of California, so I took five day’s rest but I got sick.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the Dauphiné. I came fresh and in good form, that’s why I’ve done a very good race so far. Maybe I’ll lose the jersey tomorrow but I’ll defend it for sure.”
Team RadioShack has had several riders suffer crashes at the Dauphiné and is not at full strength. “It’s gonna be hard even though we have a good team,” Brajkovic said. “We’ve lost Haimar (Zubeldia, victim of a crash and a broken wrist), it’s a big loss. Other guys crashed as well but I’m confident they’ll be able to take me to the bottom of the last climb and it’ll be up to me to follow the best riders. We’ll see if I can do it. These French climbs are unknown to me.”
Brajkovic has a 1:41 lead over his former Astana teammate Alberto Contador, who dropped from the race lead to fourth overall after finishing sixth in the time trial. “He is not our enemy,” Brajkovic said. “He’s a rider among others and he’s the best in the world. The Dauphiné isn’t the number one race he wants to win. I believe he’ll reach his top level at the Tour de France. That leaves a chance to another rider to get glory here.”
The Dauphiné might open the door of the Tour de France to Brajkovic for the first time. “I love racing,” Brajkovic said. “If I get a start at the Tour de France, it’s great, if not, it’s not the end of the world and I can always say that I’ve had a great Dauphiné.”
“Jani has a chance to ride the Tour, he’s on our list of 15 and he’s in good form,” said Alain Gallopin. “His last race wasn’t Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he has done a lot since. The list is down to 14 because of Sébastien Rosseler’s injury. We don’t know yet if Zubeldia will recover on time for the Tour. We’ll take the decision collectively.”
June 12, Stage 6: Crolles – Alpe-d’Huez 151.5km
Contador wins at L’Alpe d’Huez
Alberto Contador of Astana won at L’Alpe d’Huez after a tensely fought sixth stage at the Criterium du Dauphine, but he was unable to break away from Janez Brajkovic of RadioShack, who doggedly stayed with the Spaniard and defended his overall lead.
Contador and Brajkovic crossed the finish line in the same time, needing more than 45 minutes to reach the top. Sylvester Szmyd (Liquigas-Doimo), who had tried to attack the two, eventually struggled to hold on and finished second 17 seconds back, with Jerome Coppel of Saur-Sojasun taking fourth at 24 seconds.
Brajkovic remained in first position in the overall standings, while Contador climbed to second at 1:41. HTC-Columbia’s Tejay van Garderen was unable to stay with them on the climb to L’Alpe d’Huez but he fought all the way to the finish. He finished 11th at 1:26, after some help from Chris Horner (RadioShack) and slipped only to third place overall at 2:41.
Before the explosive racing on the hairpins of L’Alpe d’Huez, the stage was marked by a 20-man escape group but the riders never built up a large lead and never had much chance of securing a stage victory. The Astana-led chase group ground its way along all day, dropping riders from its group and eventually catching those falling out of the lead group, as they all started their way up the Alpe d’Huez, the fourth and final climb of the day after the Cotes des Fontaines, the Col du Grand Cucheron and the Col du Glandon in just 151km.
The group on the L’Alpe d’Huez got smaller and smaller, until it came down to the two leaders, with Contador in the end unable to take any time off of his younger rival.
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 4:31:01
2. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack
3. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Doimo 0:00:17
4. Jérôme Coppel (Fra) Saur – Sojasun 0:00:24
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:40
6. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d’Epargne 0:01:17
7. Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:18
8. Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
9. Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
10. Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack 0:01:26
Brajkovic wins the Critérium du Dauphiné
Janez Brajkovic (Team RadioShack) leads Alberto Contador (Astana) rides in the peloton on the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky took a classy solo win on the final day of the Critérium du Dauphiné, while Janez Brajkovic of RadioShack won the overall classification to claim the biggest victory in his career.
Brajkovic’s victory almost certainly earned him a place in the RadioShack team for the Tour de France that will hope to beat Alberto Contador as comprehensively as the little Slovenian did in the Alps during the seven-day race. Contador was well beaten and finished 1:41 behind Brajkovic with HTC-Columbia youngster Tejay Van Garderen taking an impressive third at 2:41.
Final general classification
1. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack 28:06:28
2. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:01:41
3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) Team HTC – Columbia 0:02:41
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:03:46
5. Jérôme Coppel (Fra) Saur – Sojasun 0:04:17
6. Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 0:04:23
7. Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 0:06:16
9. Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack 0:06:20
10. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Doimo 0:06:57
“Little JB’s” chances to ride the Tour de France are 50-50
Janez Brajkovic realised what a big deal it was for him to win the Dauphiné when he looked at the record book before starting the final stage. A few hours later, he joined the five-time (or more) Tour de France winners Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong in adding the Dauphiné to his palmarès.
“I don’t care if (Alberto) Contador (Astana) wasn’t at his best form or if other top riders weren’t here this week,” Brajkovic said after the final stage in Sallanches. “This is the Dauphiné! To beat Contador is enough for me to be happy with my win. He’s the best rider in the world and even when not at his best, he can win almost any race he takes part in, so I think I’ve done a good job.”
Brajkovic didn’t lose any seconds to the Spaniard after he took the yellow and blue leader’s jersey in the 49km individual time trial that he won on Wednesday. Up l’Alpe d’Huez, he resisted all attacks from Contador, the captain of Astana.
“Alberto didn’t try to take me on today,” said Brajkovic of the final day of racing. “He didn’t want to take any risks on the wet downhill, I suppose. But it wasn’t an easy last stage. There were many attacks. Fortunately my team kept everything under control and AG2R was pulling really hard. They wanted to come across to the breakaway, but they didn’t manage to do it. It was good for us. I felt good even if I don’t like the kind of steep and short climb we faced.”
“It’s been a perfect week,” the Slovenian said. “I’m very happy for myself and for my team. You might not have seen it, but sometimes I found the race very hard because I was suffering from allergies.”
“For me to win a race, my form has to be perfect. The course and the weather have to suit me, but I can win races. Actually, I’m a lot more self-confident now. It doesn’t mean I can be the best all the time, not by any means. I’ve been very constant this year. I’ve been in the top 10 of almost all the races I’ve taken part in. I didn’t have the bad luck I’ve experienced in the past.
“I don’t think I have made a big jump from being an average rider to a top rider. I’ve always been at a good level. In the past, I never took much rest. This year, I rested more and I’ve been coming to the races much fresher. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve done well here.”
“Little JB” is Brajkovic’s nickname at RadioShack since he has the same initials as team manager Johan Bruyneel and the same pedalling style the Belgian had during his racing years.
He had no experience of racing in the French Alps before the Dauphiné. He was amazed by the view from l’Alpe d’Huez, where he woke up on Sunday morning. “I’ll come back on vacation this summer,” he said. “This is only a nine-hour drive from my home in Slovenia.”
But he doesn’t know yet if his summer holiday will be in July or August. “His participation to the Tour de France is 50-50,” said RadioShack directeur sportif Alain Gallopin. “We’ll decide at the end of the Tour de Suisse. For now, Jani needs to rest for one week, whether he does the Tour de France or not.”
Eight of the nine riders who formed the Astana line up at the Tour de France last year are now with RadioShack. The ninth man is Contador. Chris Horner is a natural candidate to fill Contador’s spot. Brajkovic’s debut at the Grande Boucle at the age of 26 also depends on Haimar Zubeldia’s recovery from the broken wrist he had at the Dauphiné earlier this week.